The 100th London May Queen was crowned at the Merrie England and London May Queen Festival on Hayes Common, Kent, part of an unbroken annual tradition stretching back to 1913. 20 other Queens and their realms took part.
he 100th London May Queen was crowned at the Merrie England and London May Queen Festival on Hayes Common, Kent, part of an unbroken tradition stretching back to 1913. 20 other Queens and their realms took part.
The Merrie England and London May Queen Festival was started by Joseph Deedy, usually described as a 'Dulwich schoolmaster' in 1913, and moved to its current location on Hayes Common soon after. Surprisingly it continued throughout both world wars, although in a somewhat truncated version, with no procession around the village. It was also felt that holding the ceremony in the open air would present too tempting a target for the enemy, and so it was moved from the common to the parish church. But continue it did, and every year since 1913, one girl has been crowned as the London May Queen, making this year's Festival and Queen the 100th.
Whitelands College in London started its May Queen festival rather earlier in 1881 at the prompting of John Ruskin, and this still continues at the college (now part of the University of Roehampton) although since the college now admits men, some years they have a May King in place of a queen. Talking to one of the organisers of the event yesterday I was told that Deedy worked at Whitelands contrary to the published information on him - including that I retold in my own book on the festival.
The ceremonies take place in a large roped off arena on Hayes Common, with the May Queens and their groups from various places on the fringes of south east London taking their places around it in alphabetical order. Each group has its own colour for the dresses and its own flower, and girls who may join as young as three make their way up through the various roles in the group until, if they remain long enough, they become the May Queen of their local realm. After this they can move on to join the London May Queen group, and again take the various roles by seniority until finally - usually when they are around 16 - they become London May Queen. As well as taking part in May Queen activities, May Queens and their groups also appear at various charity events in their local areas.
I arrived just as the procession around Hayes was starting, with the uncrowned queen in a lightweight carriage pulled by Sea Cadets with the Prince of Merrie England walking beside her and preceded by a bagpiper. Behind her were the members of London May Queen, including the Joy Bells celebrating Music, Company, Life, Beauty, Flowers as well as the Fairy Queen, Bo-Peep, Robin Hood and several others.
Behind them came the May Queen realms in alphabetical order - Beckenham, Beddington, Bletchingly, Bromley Common, Caterham, Chislehurst, Coney Hall, Downe, Eden Park, Elmers End, Green St Green, Hayes, Hayes Common, Hayes Village, Orpington, Petts Wood, Shortlands, Wallington, Warlingham and West Wickham. In the heyday of the event in the 1920s and 30s there were as many as 100 groups, and the event made the national newspapers and the cinema newsreels.
At the parish church, the London May Queen group made their way into the churchyard for a short service written by Deedy which he called 'Little Sanctum', before joining back on the end of the procession around the village and back to the common. There the 100th May Queen was crowned and the further pageant written by Deedy performed, ending with the May Queen being led around the arena by BoPeep and scattering flowers towards the seated May Queen realms. Many of the younger girls were quite tired by the walk around the village and were busy eating ice cream and sandwiches, which revived them considerably, and after the Chislehurst May Queen group had given a demonstration of ribbon dancing, all of the Merrie England children - including a few young boys who mainly take part as pages - came and took part in a lively circle dance around the large maypole.
All that was left was for the May Queen to draw the tickets for the raffle which helps to cover the expenses.